From Code to Cosmos – An Interview with Andy Weir

Andy Weir discusses his transition from software engineering to full-time writing, the science behind his novels, and the humor that infuses his storytelling.

Andy Weir, celebrated author and self-professed space nerd, seamlessly transitioned from a successful career in software engineering to become a full-time writer of hard science fiction. His debut novel, The Martian, captivated readers worldwide with its meticulous attention to scientific detail and was later adapted into a major motion picture. Weir’s unique background in engineering and programming infuses his writing with a problem-solving approach that has become his signature style.

In this insightful interview, Weir delves into the creation of his compelling characters and the rigorous research process behind his novels, including his latest work, Project Hail Mary. He reveals how he balances scientific accuracy with engaging storytelling, drawing from a vast array of online resources and a network of NASA engineers. Weir also discusses his departure into graphic novels with Cheshire Crossing and the challenges and joys of collaborating with illustrator Sarah Andersen.

Weir’s distinctive blend of humor and high-stakes science fiction continues to resonate with readers, making complex scientific concepts accessible and entertaining. His works, from the lunar colony in Artemis to the interstellar voyage in Project Hail Mary, showcase his ability to create immersive worlds that are both scientifically plausible and deeply human. Join us as Andy Weir shares the inspirations and processes behind his beloved stories, offering a glimpse into the mind of one of today’s most innovative science fiction writers.

Your transition from software engineering to full-time writing is fascinating. How did your background in engineering and programming influence the way you approach writing hard science fiction, particularly in your novels The Martian and Project Hail Mary?

I think I have a computer programmer’s approach to problem-solving and that’s reflected in the actions of my main characters. I also have a programmer’s approach to deadlines which is that they are absolute and you’ll pretty much die if you miss them. So my publisher really likes me as I tend to deliver on time.

In Project Hail Mary, Ryland Grace faces a series of scientific and personal challenges in space. How did you develop his character and the complex scientific scenarios he encounters? Can you share some insights into the research process behind the book?

This was the first book where I created a character that wasn’t based on my own personality. So I worked hard to think about his backstory, drives, and motivations. I’m trying to get better at characters and character depth as I consider that to be my biggest weakness as a writer.

As for the research – people think I have a contacts list full of NASA engineers and science experts. And to be honest, I do. But for 99.9% of my research I just use Google. Science-minded people tend to be technically savvy and they’re passionate about what they’re working on. So they talk about their findings online.

Cheshire Crossing is a departure from your hard science fiction novels, blending fan fiction with graphic novel elements. What inspired you to create this unique crossover, and how was the collaboration with illustrator Sarah Andersen different from your solo writing projects?

I had the idea for CC rattling around in my head for some time. The Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, and Alice in Wonderland all took place around the same time and all featured a young girl going to another world. So I decided to combine them. At the time I was making a lot of webcomics so I decided to present it in that medium. My artistic abilities could best be described as “dismal”. So when it got picked up for professional publication everyone agreed we needed a real artist. That’s where Sarah came in. She was wonderful to work with and I consider her a friend to this day.

Artemis introduces readers to Jazz Bashara, a cunning smuggler on the moon. What motivated you to set this story in a lunar colony, and how did you balance the heist elements with the scientific accuracy and world-building that your fans expect?

I started that book with the idea of the city itself. Only after coming up with “How and why would there be a city on the Moon” did I start coming up with a story to take place in it. As for balance, I (almost) always put science first. So the story has to follow the science. And often it’s driven by the science. Being accurate to real-world physics often gives me plot complications and ideas that I otherwise wouldn’t have thought of.

The Martian became a global phenomenon and was adapted into a successful film. How did the experience of seeing your novel translated to the big screen affect your writing process and career? Were there any particular challenges or highlights during this adaptation?

It was an amazing and surreal experience. It changed my career from “software engineer who writes for fun” to full time writer. My writing process had to change, too. When I wrote The Martian, I wrote it as a serial, posting a chapter to my website every few weeks and getting feedback from readers. For traditional publishing contracts you can’t do that.

You’re known for integrating humor with high-stakes science fiction. How do you maintain this balance in your storytelling, ensuring that the humor enhances rather than detracts from the tension and realism of your plots?

I think the humor comes naturally to me. Put simply: I’m a smart-ass. The hard part isn’t injecting humor – it’s keeping humor out of scenes where it doesn’t belong.

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